MANILA // Philippine security forces killed as many as 42 Muslim rebels claiming links with ISIL and captured their stronghold during five days of fighting in the mountains of a southern island, an army spokesman said on Friday.
Three soldiers were killed and 11 wounded when the forces seized the bastion of an affiliate of Jemaah Islamiah, a South-East Asian network of Islamist militants, in the province of Lanao del Sur.
“Our troops were able to seize a stronghold of the terrorists on Thursday night,” the spokesman, Maj Filemon Tan, said on the island of Mindanao, estimating that 42 militants were killed.
“We are still pursuing the rebels, using armoured assets.”
Maj Tan said the army shelled rebel positions on Friday, while air force planes dropped bombs and helicopters fired rockets near the town of Butig, a base of the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
But MILF stayed away from the skirmishes and helped about 8,000 people displaced from their homes when the fighting began on February 20, the military said.
The Philippines signed a peace deal with MILF in March 2014, ending 45 years of conflict that killed more than 120,000 people, displaced two million and stunted growth in the poor but resource-rich south.
Army and police officials believe some Muslim rebel factions, including the small but violent Abu Sayyaf group, have pledged allegiance to ISIL militants in Iraq and Syria, but said they had found no evidence to support this.
Elsewhere in Mindanao, soldiers pursued the Abu Sayyaf group, which is holding several foreigners captive, including a Japanese, a Dutch national, two Canadians and a Norwegian.